Ripert, star of the PBS show, Avec Eric, said that there is a collective heightening of awareness about food in the United States, and consumers are demanding transparency from industry, and fresher, more immediately recognizable ingredients.
“People want to know what’s in their food. They are looking at the labeling and what’s not on the label. I am thinking now about GMOs,” he said. “It should not only be labeled, but there should be more information in parallel to the labeling so they stop being paranoid.”
His comments came just days before the Just Label It campaign, which has called on the FDA to require labeling of genetically engineered foods, reached a record one million supporters.
However, Ripert said that if people want to eat fresh foods and foods made with sustainable ingredients, they need to increase their food budgets – and prioritize spending on food over luxuries, such as the latest iPhone. People could also consume smaller portions, he said.
“When you eat smaller portions, you save money. It’s a given. And you don’t need to eat meat protein every day, or at every meal…Diets need to change.”
According to the USDA, Americans spend less on food than any other country – just 9.4% of disposable income in 2010. Although food prices have been rising, this is down from 11.4% in 1990 and 13.2% in 1980.
“In America, we have great quality ingredients and if we look after the planet and the keepers of the land, we will be in pretty good shape,” Ripert said.
For the food industry, he advised greater transparency about ingredients, and better consumer education.
He said: “More people are cooking. Some people say that is not happening, that they are watching TV and then eating nachos, but when you see Walmart stocking fresh ingredients – organic ingredients – Whole Foods, Trader Joes, and many other stores…They know what they’re doing. They’re not crazy.”
RCA president Janet Carver agreed that dealing with food-savvy consumers looking for fresher, more natural foods “is something we are struggling with as an industry.”
She said that some companies are beginning to provide options for consumers that allow them to add to a dish and participate in its preparation. This helps consumers to feel less guilty about what they are feeding their families if they are not always able to cook from scratch, she said.